How to Take Care of Yourself as a Travel Nurse
By Natalie Newman, Contributing Writer
Stress is synonymous with nursing. Because of the constant changes in the healthcare environment and the rapid growth in healthcare technology, one can easily become stressed and disillusioned. I have 6 simple principles I incorporate into my daily life to ensure I am healthy, happy and emotionally strong as a nurse, no matter where my travels take me:
Safety in the Hospital
There are a number of dangerous chemicals in a hospital. Nurses especially are continuously exposed to bleach wipes and alcohol hand sanitizer, but too much exposure to these chemicals can cause damage to skin and lungs over time.
I always hold my breath when using the bleach wipes and I don’t stand too close after using chemical products. I bring my own “natural” hand sanitizer and carry it in my pocket. I also run whenever I hear the word “x-ray.” Not just 6 feet away — but in another room hidden behind a wall! Continuous radiation is a serious health concern for health care providers.
Constantly being around sick people and emergent situations can lead to burnout. Also, at some point in your nursing career, there may be a patient death. It most likely won’t be your fault, but you will still feel awful about it and potentially take those feelings home with you for a long time.
This happened to me and I constantly wondered “What if I did something different and saw something sooner?” But after hours of talking to other nurses, doctors, friends and professionals, I realized there was truly nothing I could do. I was shocked to learn how many nurses and doctors also process death the same way I did and even experience depression.
Please, don’t bottle up your feelings. I wish everyone were more open and honest with their life experiences so we can understand that sometimes death is a normal process. The more we support each other and talk honestly, the better the outcomes for our team and patients.
See the daylight
Being in a hospital all day, especially in units with no windows, can affect your internal rhythm. Humans need to breathe outside air and be in sunlight. Therefore, on my breaks, I usually take a walk. Even if it is just for 5 minutes around the building, I take continuous deep breaths of fresh air to recharge.
Plan your days off
Even if you’re planning on just relaxing and doing nothing, make that your intention. Living with intention is key to a happy life. I like to plan something relaxing or fun for a much needed day off. If I totally unwind or learn something new, I’m feeding my brain which will always thank me later. The workplace can be a stressful environment for all, so I often find new things to do and learn and then invite other co-workers to join me.
Don’t give into stress
The cliche “follow your gut,” is not necessarily the best advice. You know when you think about something sad or frustrating and those nervous feelings in your stomach start churning? That is cortisol, a stress hormone. Never make decisions or conclusions from that stress hormone, or from anger or out of fear. If something is bothering you, use a combination of your intuition and analytical thinking. This can help you see the situation as it really is, without emotions involved. Regardless of how you deal with these situations, it’s important and rewarding to find your own way to be calm, rational, and professional.
Hold hands and give hugs
Medical studies have shown the most effective way to de-stress quickly is to give a hug or hold hands. When appropriate, I hug my patients especially when I know they are scared or lonely. I will get down to their eye level and hold their hand while talking to them. I can’t even begin to tell you how effective this is in healing and happiness.
When my grandfather’s oncologist prepared to tell him of his fatal diagnosis, she knelt down first, looked him in the eye, held his hand and calmly gave the news. It was such a touching, compassionate and sincere way to speak to a patient. I will always remember her compassion as a nurse and family member.
Following these 6 simple daily principles has allowed me to enjoy nursing to its fullest and additionally has helped me become a better nurse, over and over.
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